Transportation and water infrastructure funding needs a targeted spending plan and policy changes, according to a recent study by the nonprofit research organization, RAND Corporation.
The researchers that developed Not Everything Is Broken suggest that a 2.5 percent to 3 percent annual spending increase above present annual spending ($235 billion) is needed to go beyond adequate maintenance of transportation and water infrastructure to eliminate existing maintenance backlogs by 2030. The report also concludes that national consensus on priorities is needed:
Spreading federal dollars around to fund short-term, ‘shovel-ready’ projects without a sense of national purpose or priority will not get the nation where it needs to be,” said Debra Knopman, principal researcher at RAND and the report’s lead author, in the study announcement.
Knopman added that the federal government ought to focus on targeting nationally significant projects beyond the capacity of individual states and cities. Part of the study was looking at strategies that are more likely than current practice to remedy infrastructure funding and finance problems.
George Will of the Washington Post described the RAND report as “a calmer assessment of current conditions” than the annual infrastructure report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers in a syndicated article titled, Infrastructure Spending Won’t Transform U.S.
The researchers found that while not everything is broken — road and bridge conditions improved overall since 2002, according to the report — less-traveled roads have deteriorated. However, the Federal Highway Trust Fund and many state funds for drinking water and wastewater treatment plants have not been operating on a sustainable basis, and communities with declining tax bases struggle to maintain their roads, bridges and water systems and repay their debts to bond holders, according to the key findings.
While they do not recommend dramatic changes to the current roles and responsibilities among federal, state and local governments, the report authors indicate that federal policy should shift to drive public spending to high-priority regional-scale projects that deliver sustained national economic benefits. However, “striking the appropriate balance between a larger role for the private sector and protecting taxpayers from financial risk has proven difficult in practice,” they added.
The RAND study suggests federal policy and spending should align for:
- Investing in the most critical aging infrastructure
- Preserving the federal tax exemption on interest earned from municipal bonds over the next decade, or more
- Reinstating taxable Build America Bonds
- Experimenting with other financing alternatives, such as through public-private partnerships that invest in local and state infrastructure
- Incorporating advanced technologies to support newer construction methods
- Supporting use of sustainable materials and sensor technologies that improve infrastructure maintenance
- Implementing requirements that improve infrastructure resilience
The study and report was conducted by the RAND Infrastructure Resilience and Environmental Policy Program and was also authored by Martin Wachs, Benjamin Miller, Scott Davis and Katherine Pfrommer.
Review and download Not Everything is Broken:
Learn more about infrastructure investments: